Monday, 21 September 2015

The Art of Project Based Learning

Project based learning or PBL is a modern day teaching methodology aimed at the 21st century learner practiced by making real world connections to the study topic, providing a structured collaborative environment, making it practical,  giving students complete ownership of the project and thus creating lifelong learners in the process.

But can PBL work in an Indian Classroom Scenario? I was a little skeptic about it until I figured out how. Baring the tier one elite schools or IB schools, most Indian schools lack the infrastructure needed to conduct independent/group research and are governed by a completely different set of socio-cultural rules compared to the west; which I do not necessarily mean in a bad way.

One of the biggest challenges for a mixed group is there is always a boy-girl divide. If you have studied in the Indian schooling system you will know exactly what I am talking about. Boys usually occupy the two extreme rows to the left and the girls occupy the two rows to the right. And their interactions are usually hostile, if at all. So to put them in the same group and ask them to work together to find a solution to a problem/task is like asking Tom and Jerry to make up. However, this is usually the case up till grade 6th after which things are a little less hostile but suddenly whole lot quieter than usual for a completely different set of reasons, which we won’t get into now. 

What is important for conducting a PBL session is asking the right questions. This is more difficult than you think; especially, if you are someone like me who likes to jump in and give her own inputs. You can try and pose your input as a suggestion but they will take it less like a suggestion and more as an ultimatum, out of the habit of letting the teacher have the first and the last word. So the key is to create an environment conducive to healthy discussions and enable mutual trust from the very beginning. Don’t be afraid to look stupid by asking illogical questions only to allow them to come up with sound reasoning to refute it. The process is much like conducting a design thinking workshop but with teenagers instead. Self-assessment is the most difficult part of PBL to implement with Indian students since it is deeply tied with self-awareness. It is also unfair to expect students to suddenly build all these qualities just for one class while all other subjects are conducted in the traditional rote method.

However, Ebase is different. Mahabhodhi is different. 

One thing Pahaadi kids (mountain kids) are great at is Jugaad innovation! It is deep rooted and comes naturally to them. These kids never fail to surprise me with their innovative makeshift solutions for every road block we face with projects. Class 6th has the most proactive students and our project was to make a working model of a mini biogas plant for which we needed some pretty complicated parts like a T-valve, a tire tube with an opened nozzle, a soldering iron etc. We made the entire project with spare parts that the kids found at the kabaddi walas’, at the hostel kitchen or in the guesthouse dumpster. The kids like their E-base sessions so much that they literally came back in their free periods and break time to submit tasks given to them the previous day.

The project on hand for the notorious class 7 students on our return from the field trip was to build a greenhouse from scratch with the basic material they were provided with. And they took on the challenge with such gusto that all other teachers were shocked to see them going against their well set reputation of being the rebels of the school. In fact they not only finished their challenge of making the greenhouse but really surprised me with their attention to detail when it came to digging holes, churning the soil with humus, blueprints of the plant beds, the steps they followed through the process, their reasoning behind each step and their degree of collaboration. They also considered a number of different designs for making it with 5 long PVC pipes. An igloo shaped greenhouse with light entering from every direction, many small green houses made with two pipes each or one big green house with all five pipes. They all took a vote and decided on a full size 5 pipe green house. They were also extremely efficient in executing the plan and had a standing structure in 40 minutes, tilled soil mixed with humus and charted beds by then end of the next period and soon it will have UV stabilized plastic and cabbage growing by mid winter. They finished the entire project in less than 3 hours and in less than 30$. And to think this was the same group which threw my shoes on the top of the school building once.

DAY 1:

Model 1: Igloo=  Rejected! 

Model 2: Mini box = Rejected!

Model 3:  Mambo Jumbo = Approved! 

Progress at the end of Day 1- the proud team. 

DAY 2:


All that's left to do is add a UV stabilized Plastic sheet and seeds to plant for this winter! 

1 comment:

  1. Amazing PBL!!!! worth replicating in all the school curriculum may be even in B Schools for problem solving sessions.
    I am pleased to see your maturity and teaching method. Well done and keep it up & Scale it up!!!!